Unrest in Jerusalem due to possible eviction of Palestinian families

The temper in Jerusalem is high around the possible eviction of four Palestinian families. They should make way for Jewish settlers. Over the past evenings, violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police forces have occurred. In addition, at least ten were injured. Several Palestinians were arrested.

The protests are triggered by a decision by an Israeli judge that the Palestinian inhabitants of four houses in East Jerusalem should leave their homes. On Monday, the judge is expected to decide whether the families are still allowed to appeal against their eviction.

The case contributes to the tensions in and around Jerusalem that had already arisen in recent weeks.

The homes are the subject of a long lasting political and legal struggle. Palestinian residents claim to have lived there since the 1950s, having fled from their villages and cities during the war around the founding of Israel in 1948. However, according to the Israeli authorities, the land on which the Palestinians live, in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem, is not of them. Before 1948, the land would have been owned by Jewish organizations.

Palestinians and human rights organisations oppose the court‘s decision to evict, which they call discriminatory. โ€œPalestinians who had possessions in Israel before 1948 cannot claim their homes and territory there,โ€ says Hagit Ofran of Peace Now action group. According to her, Israel should not use its laws to expel residents of occupied territory.

Israel sees Jerusalem as its undivided capital, but under international law East Jerusalem is considered an occupied Palestinian territory.

One of the families that have to make room is the family of Elissar Abuhassna. โ€œThis is my favorite place of the house,โ€ says the 22-year-old in the courtyard of the house. She’s been living in this place ever since she was born. โ€œI used to play out here with our neighbors. But now we have Israeli settlers living next to us.โ€

For her family, too, it is uncertain how long they can stay in their home. The Israeli judge has to leave the family. โ€œThe thought of leaving our house is very stressful and painful,โ€ says Abuhassna. Every time she closes the door behind her, she worries. โ€œI‘m afraid they’ll take over the house when we‘re not there. That I come back and colonists have put my stuff on the street.โ€

200 families possibly evicted

The issue about the houses in the district has been dragging in for decades. Like the home of the neighbors of Abuhassna, other houses in the area already passed into the hands of Jewish settlers. According to the United Nations, more than 200 families in East Jerusalem are threatened with expulsion, a total of almost 1000 people. In many cases, it is a question of lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

According to the Israeli authorities, this is a purely legal issue. โ€œI’m sorry for the residents to have to leave,โ€ says Deputy Mayor Arieh King of Jerzualem, โ€œbut I‘m even more sorry for the owners of the land that they couldn’t use it all along.โ€

Politician King has been working for years to establish Jewish Israelis in East Jerusalem. โ€œBy bringing more and more Jews to these areas, we are securing our future throughout Jerusalem,โ€ he says.

Among other things, the European Union and the British consul in Jerusalem spoke out against the evictions. But for Israeli settlers who already live in the district, things cannot go fast enough. โ€œIt is high time they left,โ€ says Eden Levi, who lives in the house next to Abuhassna. โ€œThis land is our property. And Jerusalem belongs to the Jews, not to the Arabs.โ€

The leader of the military arm of Hamas, a strict Islamic movement labelled by the EU and the US as a terrorist organisation, also interfered with the case. In his first public statement in almost seven years, he warned Israel that it would pay a โ€œhigh priceโ€ if it expels Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

The families in Sheikh Jarrah don‘t want to be sent away. Abuhassna says she doesn’t know where she would go. She‘s afraid she and her family will soon be out on the street. โ€œI don’t expect justice,โ€ she says, โ€œbut hope is all we have.โ€

Yesterday, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, several Palestinians were injured in the skirmishes in East Jerusalem, including three people who were allegedly shot by rubber bullets. The Israeli police reported five arrests, including a protester who would have thrown stones at the security forces.